Okay, so I sort of stole the above title from C.S. Lewis’s famous autobiography, Surprised by Joy…sort of. I’m reading Alan Jacobs’s The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis, and I see a connection between Lewis and Abaqis . I know, I know, it seems an unlikely connection: Lewis was a real live, famous person, while Abaqis is no person at all, and not at all famous. Please hear me out. I think I can explain.

According to Jacobs, Lewis’s intellectual life included a focused longing for Joy. Lewis sought and saw glimpses of joy in logic, friendship, writing, poetry, and nature. While all these things stoked Lewis’s fire for joy, they all failed to fully satisfy. Later in life, Lewis (an avowed atheist) claims to have found the joy he longed for in a most surprising place—the Christian faith.

Evidence of his surprised discovery and embracing of Christianity is firmly fixed in Lewis’s writings. His most celebrated books, The Chronicles of Narnia, are loaded with Christian imagery and metaphor. Remember The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe? The very ‘Christ-like’ Aslan, is the creator and redeemer of Narnia, the conqueror of trouble (i.e., the Witch), and the ultimate source of joy in Narnia.

Setting Lewis aside for a moment, you may be asking, “What is Abaqis?” Good question. Abaqis is a software program that mirrors the current state nursing home survey processes as established by CMS. We use Abaqis to help prepare us for our annual State survey. The program utilizes a series of interviews to gauge our work so that we may fix the bad and affirm the good before surveyors enter the doorway. Yet, for me, Abaqis has become more than just a survey prep tool. It’s is a great way to measure customer service, because it reveals how well our elders feel and fare under our roof—in their own eyes, and in the eyes of their family.

Martha Simmons, our chaplain, does our Abaqis family interviews. Last week Martha shared the results of a surprising interview with the daughter of one of our elders. This family member told Martha that her mother and father had been in other nursing homes and Pickett was “by far the best.” While we are very pleased with her opinion, that’s not what surprised us. She continued to share that her son had paid a recent visit to Pickett to see his grandmother. It was his words that surprised us for he had announced to his mother, “That place is a place of joy.”

Now, I’ve been at this nursing home thing longer than some of our staff members have been alive, and I’ve never heard of any nursing home being called a “place of joy.” I’ve heard all the common criticismsL “Nursing homes are warehouses for the dying; smelly, unclean, and depressing places to be avoided at all costs.” I hear the compliments too. We’ve received praises on the cleanliness of Pickett, the lack of smell, our positive and active culture, our friendly and professional staff, etc. We are very proud of these accolades, but never has anyone ever mentioned ‘joy.’ I was surprised, and like C.S. Lewis, we are surprised by joy. Like Lewis, we see joy as worth seeking.

Reggie McCarthy is an elder who was actively engaged with our Camp Pickett kids last summer. She recently paid a visit to our local grade school. Upon seeing her, several of the Camp Pickett children waved and shouted, “Hey, Miss Reggie!” Reggie smiles and is overheard saying, “You’d think I was a celebrity.” Well Reggie, you are a celebrity.

A warehouse for the dying? Bah humbug! How about a house of joy—a home full of celebrities!

-Written by Jeff Amonett, administrator

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